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May 28, 2015
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Nightlife: Backbar at Scape
By Matt Berkley | Photos by Duston Bryson
Posted On: 05/01/2015   

Backbar at Scape
48 Maryland Plaza, St. Louis, 314.361.7227, backbaratscape.com

A quiet stretch of alley space tucked between The Chase Park Plaza and Maryland Avenue, steps away from the epicenter of the Central West Endís thriving entertainment scene, is home to Backbar at Scape, a swanky and secluded open-air patio. Peddled toward the well-heeled crowd, this outdoor urban retreat is a fine spot to ease back on a warm night and sip, savor and splurge.

Juxtaposed to the adjacent back alley entrance of the raucous and wild Mandarin Lounge, Scapeís Backbar couldnít be more opposite. While liquored-up 20-somethings stand in line for the elevator to Mandarinís remix-thumping rooftop party, the patrons at Backbar glance over and smile. Unhurried and more self-possessed, the atmosphere is relaxed and upscale, but no less flirty or indulgent. There are no packed lines for shots, but you will find well-dressed young professionals and a more mature after-dinner crowd cozying up to the bar with cold cocktails in hand. Live bands, mainly jazz and other acoustic groups, are regular features here, too. In this bustling midtown setting, Backbar enjoys a healthy happy-hour crowd that takes advantage of $3 beers and $5 wine and cocktail specials. Cardinals game nights are likewise a popular draw for patrons looking to avoid the typical sports bar scene.

The open-air space has the feel of an Italian courtyard. A massive wall covered in ivy is dressed with stone columns that support 72-inch flat-screen TVs. A handful of tables open up to the bar and adjacent lounge areas, decked out with high-tops, cushy chairs and plenty of steel bar stools.

Backbar is served by a U-shaped stone bar that makes good use of four well-chosen taps that feature a revolving selection of brews. My visits found them serving great pints of Boulevard Tank Seven, Urban Chestnut Zwickel (in a proper UCBC mug to boot) and Deschutes Porter. There are a handful of wines by the glass, priced in the $9 to $12 range, along with featured cocktails. The cocktail menu is dominated by warm-weather drinks Ė nominally sweet and citrusy choices like the 18th Amendment, a pseudo mojito that subs a splash of Backwoods moonshine for rum, with strawberries, mint and lime floating in ginger ale. A more potent choice is the Ultimate Manhattan, which hardly lives up to its name (the bartenders can be heavy-handed with the sweet vermouth) but still offers a nice hit of Knob Creek bourbon with a dark morello cherry to munch on afterward. This is not to say thereís a lack of talent behind the bar. This place pushes out perhaps the best Bombay gin martini Iíve sipped on in years. And while it may seem like a laid-back spot, orders are delivered correctly and at a good pace.

Backbar offers a menu of high-end small plates and shared items Ė steamed mussels, shrimp and grits, daily updated cheese boards Ė along with Scapeís regular food offerings. The best of these by far is the braised beef bruschetta, which offers generous hunks of savory beef on top of a thick slice of bread smothered in a salty-sweet red pepper goat cheese tapenade garnished with light, Calabrian peppers. Pair this with a tall, ruby red glass of the J.L. Chave Mon Coeur Cotes du Rhone, a medium-bodied red with a long, berry-filled finish. At $3 a pop, fresh oysters (both East and West Coast varieties) on the half-shell are available and worth the splurge after a few martinis.

An expensive though not overpriced treat, Backbar at Scape stands out as a solid destination for secluded date nights, an after-dinner drink with friends or a cold pint and a ballgame. Thatís not bad work for a little strip of back alley.

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